When You Are Cursed
This letter will be brief because I have a panel at a literary festival today, because we are doing literary festivals again, in person, either “forever” or “while we can” — we will see.
I am doing a panel on memoir, which is the first panel I have ever done on memoir, and probably will be the last, because I have a feeling I will just slide back into the fictional world soon enough. (A novelist who wrote a memoir, not the other way around.) But anyway, today, I will share some thoughts on this thing I wrote.
I will be interested to hear what comes out of my mouth, because I’m not even sure how I feel about it at the moment. I think in a year I will know better, but for now it all still feels too close. I have just been diving into writing my new novel so intensely instead of dealing with the past. I feel like I’ve gone off to sea for a good long while, and today is the day I’m returning to shore, and I’ve no idea what awaits me when I return. How do I feel? Who knows? Let’s find out.
Spring has sprung here in New Orleans
A friend told me to read this interview with Jamaica Kincaid in the new Paris Review and I did and I’m so glad. My favorite bit:
“No, I can barely reread what I’ve written. With everything I write, there’s a feeling of having finally told the world what I really think, when I’d been hoping never to do that. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to Greek mythology—because what I’m describing is like a curse. I don’t want to say this thing, but my curse, my punishment, is that I have to say it. And so once I’ve said it, I can’t bear to see it.”
We are cursed, all of us. But any other curse would ruin us.
My update on the process of writing my new novel is this past week my first readers read the first fifty pages and encouraged me to forge ahead. I’m in the process of editing the pages I wrote last year that were further along in the linear path of the book to retrofit them into the new structure. (Or, possibly, toss some of them aside.) I’m also generating new ideas.
I’m doing this mostly by reading. I read early in the mornings with a little notebook by my side and sometimes I only make it a few pages and then something shifts in my brain and I am suddenly seeing things that could happen in my own book in the future. I take notes, awkwardly, rapidly, and I don’t look at them again. I’m just letting myself be in conversation with this other author’s work, and also being in a separate conversation with my own book, and then I have some more coffee. It is all very harmonious first thing in the morning. (And weird.) (And magical.)
Reading-wise, I’ve been slowly tackling Bolaño’s 2666 (that book is one long idea-trigger), I read Rachel Eliza Griffith’s gorgeous poetry collection Seeing the Body, and also Adam Langer’s highly enjoyable Cyclorama. I’m starting to read two novels this week: Weike Wang’s Joan is Okay, and The Woman Could Fly by Megan Giddings who wrote Lakewood, which I absolutely loved. Megan is in town for the aforementioned literary festival, and, thrillingly, I got to meet her for the first time and have a nice dinner with her and other writers. A bunch of cursed people, walking the streets of New Orleans.
I hope you all have a nice, productive, thoughtful week. I will be in New York City for a few days and if you see me, say hello.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation once again went to Second Harvest and Imagine Water Works.
Jami - You're going to be awesome. Wish I could be there to hear you speak. Thanks for the interview with Jamaica Kincaid. She came to speak to my writing class when I was in college. She talked a lot about how she felt guilty for even discussing her work because her mother was in a hotel room just off of campus and was afraid it would get back to her. That image has always stuck with me. Regardless or because of her demons, she makes it work.
Have fun today,